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29 March 2010, 12:26

US government employees face file sharing ban

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House of Representatives Seal Last week, by a large majority, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to disallow the installation of file sharing applications on the computers of government employees. New York representative Edolphus Towns, the democrat politician that originally introduced the bill to the house, reported that the proposed "Secure Federal File Sharing Act" passed the House by 408 to 13 votes. Rep. Towns said US legislators can "no longer ignore the threat to sensitive government information, businesses and consumers that insecure peer-to-peer networks pose". In the Congressman's view, the securing of federal computer files is "critical" to US national security.

According to the initiative, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House, after consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officers Council, will issue guidelines to prohibit the downloading, installation or use of file sharing software in open networks by government employees within 90 days after the enactment of the Act. This is also to include government employees' home or personal computers if they are configured for remote access to government networks.

The restrictions are also intended to apply to the corporate PCs of contractors who work with US government agencies. Exemptions will be granted if the use of P2P networks is necessary, for instance, to complete a project or carry out criminal investigations. Furthermore, the OMB is to provide various US Congress committees with annual reports on the implementation of the Act, including a list of agencies that are using P2P software and the intended purposes for using the software.

With these measures, US Members of Congress have responded to media reports about the leak of several confidential government documents into P2P networks. The leaks included a list of ongoing investigations by the House of Representatives' Ethics Committee, technical details of the "Marine One" helicopter, and other sensitive information about US military programs. Location details of protective shelters for the family of the US president were also shared on the net last summer. For Towns, this is proof that the security risks far exceed the "great potential" of P2P networks.

The bill now moves to the US Senate for consideration. However, the Senate is currently also considering another bill. The "P2P Cyber Protection and Informed User Act" is to prevent the users of file sharing networks from inadvertently causing privacy leaks or security breaches. It would require all vendors of P2P networking software to clearly point out to users that the files on their hard disks will become freely available for sharing.

(Stefan Krempl)

(Stefan Krempl / crve)

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